Chamonix is an unusual skiing and snowboarding area as the resort consists of various
places along the valley that are linked by the rather inconsistent Chamonix buses. This is a bit rubbish, for those wanting traditional ski in, ski out style holidays. However with some experience (or a guide!) you can learn where all the buses go and more importantly that between these spread out ski areas lies some fantastic off piste and ski touring or splitboarding terrain to explore.
I have put together two short video edits focusing purely on the off-piste in all the various Chamonix areas, all footage was from this season. The first one features Le Tour, Grands Montets, Pas de Chevre , the couloirs of Flegere, Aiguille Rouge and Brevent and probably my run of the season in knee deep powder on the Hotel Face in Brevent.
The Brevent area is my most requented area, this is probably due to its location in the town centre, but it is also a fantastic area on a powder day. My best day there this season involved 4 first tracks down 4 different couloirs in deep powder over 3 hours one morning (OK I poached one from a guided group and feared bad karma all day). The crowds hit the Grands Montets area and leave the powder and harder to find steep couloirs at Brevent, to the locals and long may it stay like that! Brevent is also home to the famous hotel face, in places a very steep face littered with cliff drops and features; essentially a freeride must do!
Flegere nextdoor to brevent is linked by a cable car but also by some fantastic off piste runs such as the cruisey col de Gliere or my favourite, the slightly steeper col du lacs Noirs. Both accessed from the Cornu chair lift and then a short traverse. There are also couloirs above the Index chair and the Floria drag lift that can be easily accessed for steep and deep fun. The run under the liason cable car, that links the areas can be fun too, a long run back down to the valley, it is outstanding when the snow is deep; think pillows and deep deep untracked powder, however it is the exit for about 5 different avalanche chutes, so not recommended unless you are super sure about the snow stability.
Next is the Grands Montets, the most famous area in the valley, it used to be said that the area was so huge, fresh tracks could be had for days. In 2014 fresh tracks can be had for hours and by lunch it is moguls as high as your waist! On quieter weeks, powder days here can be fantastic. The real delight is if you can score a place in the first bin for the famous top lift on an epic powder day (you can book online in advance for one run a day which is worth doing). We had 2 such days this season when the snow on the glacier was waist deep and untouched! The scale of the run and depth of the snow releases any sensation of speed it is just endless surfing and carving your line in a stunning setting until you meet the glacier! Another badly kept secret is the Pas de Chevre, an area that drops to the Mer de Glace in the direction of Chamoinx, it is a fantastic, huge powder bowl that ends in an abseil and sketchy moraine scramble even on better snow days!
At the far end of the valley lies Le Tour, a ski area appropriately named after the fantastic touring options. The resort itself is pretty flat and easy however a little effort walking or skiing uphill allows you to reach the Tete de Balme or Croix de Fer both mountain peaks that give a good view of the back bowls and some steeper lines on offer. The longest lines end down in Switzerland at a village called Trient which involves a bus back to France. Most Le Tour off piste tends to track out quite quickly, probably given its easy access, despite this easy access it normally has a high avalanche risk. This is compounded by convex rolls which are common avalanche triggers and the numerous hollows act as terrain traps further increasing the risks and consequences of a slide.
Edit number two is dedicated to the Aiguille du Midi and Helbronner lifts and the less accessible areas that these lifts open up.
The Plan de l’Aiguille is an extremely complex place to ski. It is the mid station on the Aiguille du Midi lift and it accesses the steepest, deepest powder tree runs in the valley. However it is also home to numerous avalanche chutes, dangerous cliffs and sketchy exit paths. Having learnt the area and its features it is now my favourite spot for low light powder days. Basically if your new, you need a guide as following random tracks can lead to a world of problems!
The Aiguille du Midi accesses the famous Vallee Blanche and all it’s variants. The Grand Envers, Petit Envers and Gros Rognon are all the most common options apart from the flat classic route. The Envers variants involve crossing snow bridges whether you realise it or not! The closeness to seracs and crevasses is part of the experience and it has steeper slopes for snowboarders too! When the snow is good you can traverse to the refuge and drop down the steeper couloirs past the building onto the flat Mer de Glace and down the exit to the Montenvers train.
The Italian side of the Mt Blanc Massif has some spectacularly good freeride terrain and this season the snow quality and depth has been off the charts over there. Accessed from either driving through the tunnel or ski touring from the Aiguille du Midi across the Glacier du Geant. The runs on the Toule glacier to the looker’s left of the lift are fun until the sun on these south facing slopes destroys the snow. Under the lift cables are some steep 45 degree slopes that have high consequences for any fall. The Col de Marbrees is another fun descent back to Italy. The descent from Helbronner down to Chamonix called the Vallee Noire on the steepest far right slopes is super fun too. It is also very rarely tracked out!